LEWISTON — If there’s one thing Lewiston Maineiacs’ coach J.F. Houle and Saint John Sea Dogs’ coach Gerard Gallant can agree on with Game 3 of the teams’ best-of-seven semifinal series looming, it’s that the series is far from over.

After a three-goal rally and an overtime victory in the first game, the Sea Dogs buried Lewiston on the power play in Game 2 to grab a commanding 2-0 advantage with the series shifting back to Lewiston.

But even trailing 0-2, the Maineiacs were upbeat and energetic at Monday’s practice.

“The guys were pretty loose today. It’s nice to come back home,” Houle said. “You just have to believe. We’ve played some good hockey lately. Right now, it’s mental. We just have to make sure we’re prepared and ready to go. The Xs and Os, we know what we’re doing out there. We looked at the game tape, the guys are working hard out there, they know the systems. It’s just in the head now.”

Saint John traveled to Lewiston Monday morning and practiced in the afternoon. With a 2-0 lead, the team was cautiously optimistic, but aware that all it had done to date was hold serve in a pair of home games.

“We took care of home ice. We got fortunate in that first game that we battled back,” Gallant said. “A playoff series is all about winning hockey games. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing at home or on the road.”

With the series shifting to Lewiston, the Maineiacs return to a barn in which they’ve enjoyed playoff success, going 5-1 in six home contests through two rounds. Lewiston also recorded a win over Saint John, one of seven in regulation all season, earlier in the campaign.

“I don’t think there’s a huge difference in how we approach it in the playoffs versus how we approached it in the regular season,” Houle said. “Obviously, the intensity is up a level because it’s the playoffs. Like we’ve done all year, we’re going to take it period by period, shift by shift. That’s what you have to do when you’re down 2-0. You can’t look ahead; you can’t look back.”

Saint John, meanwhile, has been perfect on the road in the playoffs, posting a 5-0 record while outscoring Cape Breton and Victoriaville 23-10 in the process.

“We learned a lot last year as a team, and we had a lot of those guys coming back,” Gallant said. “They come to play not matter what, and they come to the rink thinking they can win the game no matter where they are. For the most part this season, if they’ve played well, they’ve won the game.”

The goaltending situation for both teams bears watching. Both squads have pulled their starting keepers once this series, and neither coach was committing to any one goalie on the eve of Game 3.

Gallant yanked Jacob DeSerres with his team trailing 4-2 in Game 1. The Sea Dogs rallied for the win, and Gallant went back to Mathieu Corbeil in the second contest, a 4-1 victory.

“There’s a good chance I’m going to start with (Corbeil on Tuesday), but I haven’t talked to my goalies yet,” Gallant said. “All season long I’ve been rotating goalies, and I’ve tried to be fair with them game in and game out … I pulled (DeSerres) out of there, not because he played bad, but to try and spark the team, and then (Corbeil) comes in and stands on his head and lets only one goal in the next 70 or 75 minutes.”

Houle rode Nick Champion through a game and a half, before inserting Andrey Makarov after the Sea Dogs’ fourth goal on Saturday. Makarov stopped every shot he faced.

“Mak played really well. He’s played good all year when he comes in in relief,” Houle said. “I think Nick was getting a little tired, plus the power plays, 5-on-3s, it’s tough with a team like that in those situations.”

And then there is the injury bug. Saint John has been fortunate in that a couple of injuries that at first appeared to be series-threatening turned into those through which the players could continue to play.

“Knock on wood, we’ve been very fortunate with injuries,” Gallant said. “We’ve taken a couple of tough hits but for the most part, right now, I’d say we’re 99.5 percent healthy.”

Lewiston, meanwhile, practiced Monday without a couple of key players in Sam Finn and Michael Chaput.

“We don’t know yet what’s going to happen,” Houle said. “Finn is day-to-day; Chaput is day-to-day.”

Lewiston will have defender Olivier Dame-Malka at its disposal, though. Officials whistled Dame-Malka for a hit from behind on Saint John forward Jonathan Huberdeau, who laid stunned on the ice for nearly five minutes. He later returned to the game and scored on the ensuing five-minute power play.

Houle said despite the loss in Game 2, the Maineiacs showed solid flashes later in the contest, and made Corbeil work, which bodes well for Tuesday’s contest.

“I thought we had some great chances in the third period. We knocked on the door and he made some key saves,” Houle said. “I was hoping we’d get a second goal there, just to give us a little bit more life. But we were knocking on the door. We just need to keep shooting and get some traffic in front of those goalies. Both (Saint John) goalies haven’t lost many games this year, so we have to get in front of them.”

For the Sea Dogs, playing a complete game is the task at hand, something they feel they haven’t yet done in the series.

“I don’t like to say that to downplay any other team or their effort,” Gallant said. “but I feel that when we do play a 55- or 60-minute game like we did a lot of the season. We’re a pretty dominant team. I thought the first two periods (Saturday) night we played some pretty good hockey. We did exactly what we needed to do. We were quick on the puck, we were quick on the forecheck, and then in the third period, because the score was 4-0, we took the foot off the gas. In playoffs, it’s all about momentum. I think that’s a normal reaction, but I also Lewiston came out in the third period in that game and really had some quality scoring chances. That could have been a 4-3 game at the 10-minute mark if Corbeil hadn’t made some real good saves.”

Despite the 0-2 hole, and the prospect of perhaps facing a full three-period effort from Saint John, Lewiston hasn’t thrown in the towel.

“We’ve proven time after time that we’re a resilient team, and that if you work hard, good things happen,” Houle said. “That’s what we’re going to keep doing, we’re going to play as hard as we can and see if we can get a bounce here and there and get right back in this.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.